Gregory Williams appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of his former employer, Dallas Independent School District ("DISD"), on his claim that DISD retaliated against him for engaging in speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. We affirm.
Gregory Williams was previously employed as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Pinkston High School in the DISD. During the months leading up to the 2003 school year, Williams repeatedly asked the school's office manager for information concerning the funds appropriated for athletic activities. Despite numerous requests, the office manager did not give Williams specific information on the athletic account. In late September of that year, Williams wrote a memorandum to the office manager (copied to the school principal, J.L. Wright) in which he protested the manager's "fail[ure] to provide [him] with any information and/or balance pertaining to th[e athletic] account." Also in this letter, he questioned as "extremely unusual" a previous incident when the office manager casually informed him that the athletic account had a negative balance even though it had been credited with $1,000 for football season, and he had charged only one $165 purchase against that account. Williams concluded his letter to the office manager with, "Your failure to provide me with and [sic] account balance, despite numerous requests, has hurt my ability to provide our student/athletes with critical items and/or materials necessary for competition."
Almost two months later, Williams wrote a memorandum to principal Wright, expressing further concern regarding the handling of school athletic funds. Williams wrote:
Four days after receiving the memorandum, principal Wright removed Williams as Athletic Director. Removal as Athletic Director was elevated to emergency removal and administrative leave. In early March, DISD decided not to renew Williams's contract. Later that month, DISD placed principal Wright and the office manager on administrative leave pending an investigation of matters including "financial accountability."
Wright sued in the district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that DISD removed him as Athletic Director in retaliation for engaging in speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of DISD, holding that Williams's memorandum to principal Wright did not "address a matter of public concern" and therefore did not receive First Amendment protection. Williams appeals.
We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. Honeywell Int'l, Inc. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 415 F.3d 429, 434 (5th Cir.2005). We affirm only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. We may affirm a summary judgment on any ground supported by the record, even if it is different from that relied on by the district court. Holtzclaw v. DSC Commc'ns Corp., 255 F.3d 254, 258 (5th Cir.2001) (citing Tex. Refrig. Supply, Inc. v. FDIC, 953 F.2d 975, 980 (5th Cir.1992)).
Public employees do not surrender all their free speech rights by reason of their employment. Rather, the First Amendment protects a public employee's right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen on matters of public concern. See, e.g., Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563,
Williams claims that the memoranda he submitted to the office manager and principal are speech protected by the First Amendment. He argues that his memoranda are identical to that in Pickering v. Board of Education, where a teacher's letter to the local newspaper protesting the manner in which his school distributed funds between athletic and academic programs was held to be protected speech. Id. Williams views himself as engaging in a similar crusade against misappropriated and discriminatory funding, specifically pointing out that the girls' basketball team received $200 in special proceeds that should have gone to the general fund and that money was mysteriously missing from the athletic account. Claiming to have written the memoranda as a "taxpayer" and a "father," Williams notes that his efforts were later vindicated when principal Wright and the office manager were removed from their positions.
Williams's reliance on Pickering, however, is now inapposite. The Supreme Court's recent pronouncement in Garcetti v. Ceballos added a threshold layer to the Pickering balancing test. 126 S.Ct. at 1951. Under Garcetti, we must shift our focus from the content of the speech to the role the speaker occupied when he said it. Emphasizing the distinction between a speaker acting in her role as "citizen" and her role as "employee," Garcetti held that the First Amendment does not protect "expressions made pursuant to their official duties." Id. at 1960. Even if the speech is of great social importance, it is not protected by the First Amendment so long as it was made pursuant to the worker's official duties. Id. at 1960.
Garcetti did not explicate what it means to speak "pursuant to" one's "official duties," although we do know that a formal job description is not dispositive, id. at 1961, nor is speaking on the subject matter of one's employment. Id. at 1959. Thus, in order to determine whether Williams wrote these memoranda pursuant to his responsibilities as Athletic Director, we must also look to the facts and rationale underlying Garcetti.
Garcetti involved a claim brought by a deputy district attorney, Richard Ceballos, who worked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. Id. at 1955. When a defense attorney told Ceballos that he had found inaccuracies in an affidavit supporting a search warrant, Ceballos looked into the matter and concluded that defense counsel was right. Id. at 1956. He communicated his concerns to his supervisors and wrote memoranda suggesting that the office refrain from prosecuting the crime; however, Ceballos's supervisors disagreed and decided to proceed with the prosecution. Id. Ceballos claimed that, in response to his memoranda, he was subjected to a series of retaliatory
Id. at 1959-60 (emphasis added).
In Garcetti, Ceballos was acting pursuant to his official duties because he was performing activities required to fulfill his duties as a prosecutor and calendar deputy that were not protected by the First Amendment. A prosecutor is hired to assess search warrants and write recommendations on when to exercise prosecutorial discretion. Cf. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). Thus, when Ceballos articulated his opinion about a case in a memorandum to his supervisor, alleging that the police acted inappropriately in gathering evidence, he did exactly what he was required to do. The fact that his memorandum implicated contentious political issues important to the public, such as police corruption and prosecutorial misconduct, was irrelevant to the threshold inquiry. Job-required speech is not protected.
In the instant case, DISD concedes that an Athletic Director is not required to write memoranda to his principal regarding athletic accounts. Thus, we must determine the extent to which, under Garcetti, a public employee is protected by the First Amendment if his speech is not necessarily required by his job duties but nevertheless is related to his job duties.
The Supreme Court's prior decisions afford some guidance here. Notably, the Court distinguished Ceballos's speech from that of schoolteachers Marvin Pickering and Bessie Givhan. Pickering engaged in protected speech when he wrote a letter to a local newspaper addressing the funding policies of his school board. Pickering, 391 U.S. at 563, 88 S.Ct. 1731. Givhan could not be fired for complaining to her principal about the school's discriminatory hiring practices. Givhan v. Western Line Consol. Sch. Dist., 439 U.S. 410, 99 S.Ct. 693, 58 L.Ed.2d 619 (1979). In another context, a district attorney's questionnaire asking her colleagues whether they felt pressure to work on political campaigns was protected speech, while the portions of the questionnaire soliciting her colleague's views on office morale, the policy of transferring employees, the need for a grievance committee, and the level of confidence in her superiors were not protected. Connick, 461 U.S. at 138, 103 S.Ct. 1684.
These cases, when viewed as a whole, distinguish between speech that is "the kind of activity engaged in by citizens who do not work for the government," Garcetti, 126 S.Ct. at 1962, and activities undertaken in the course of performing one's job. Activities undertaken in the course of performing one's job are activities pursuant to official duties. Id. at 1960. Other circuits have drawn similar conclusions from Garcetti and those cases preceding it. See, e.g., Freitag v. Ayers, 468 F.3d 528 (9th Cir.2006) (holding as not protected speech a prison guard's internal complaints documenting her superior's failure to respond
We must therefore decide whether Williams wrote his memoranda in the course of performing his job as Athletic Director. Williams's statements in his memoranda focus on his daily operations. He needed information regarding the athletic account so that he could "operate the athletic department based on standard operating procedures and norms throughout the State of Texas." He accused the office manager of "hurt[ing his] ability to provide . . . student/athletes with critical items and/or materials necessary for competition." Moreover, Williams was responsible for buying sports equipment and for arranging and paying tournament fees. Because the office manager and principal were in charge of allocating and monitoring the athletic accounts (Williams obviously did not have exclusive control of the accounts), in order for Williams to purchase equipment and enter competitions, he needed to consult with his superior about his budget.
Simply because Williams wrote memoranda, which were not demanded of him, does not mean he was not acting within the course of performing his job. He needed account information so that he could properly execute his duties as Athletic Director, namely, taking the students to tournaments and paying their entry fees. The memoranda were not written from Williams's perspective as a "father" and "taxpayer." Unlike Pickering, whose "position as a teacher in the district did not qualify him to speak with any greater authority than any other taxpayer," Pickering, 391 U.S. at 1736, Williams had special knowledge that $200 was raised at a basketball tournament. He was also experienced with standard operating procedures for athletic departments. Even his language accusing the principal of engaging in a "network of friends and house rules" was part-and-parcel of his concerns about the program he ran.
We thus hold that Williams's memoranda to the office manager and principal Wright were written in the course of performing his job as Athletic Director; thus, the speech contained therein is not protected by the First Amendment.
Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court's grant of summary judgment.